Jeremy Thurman on August 14, 2012
The medals have been tallied. The closing ceremonies have come and gone. After two weeks of impressive athletic feats, many of the Olympians will be returning home with gold medals to mark their physical achievements. Sadly, many will also be bringing home injuries that mark the physical toll of their efforts.
The career lifespan of an Olympic athlete is dependent not only on the sport of choice, but also on training, and genetics. An Olympic table tennis player will not face the same long-term physical challenges that an Olympic runner will.
While some sports, like dressage, allow their participants to enjoy a long career, others like soccer, offer a narrower window of opportunity. Gymnastics in particular, has been known to demand unparalleled physical exertion from its competitors leading to sudden injuries and long term wear-and-tear on the joints. While an Olympic gymnast’s career will likely be over before she makes it out of her teens, many of these ailments persist long after her career is over.
Mary Lou Retton, gymnast and Olympic gold medalist, publicly battled this issue when she underwent hip replacement surgery in 2005 after years of heavy training. Retton is now able to lead a fairly normal and active life, but recovering from the heavy strain an Olympic training regime and the resulting double hip replacement put on her body was a painful process.
Hip replacement surgery is a daunting enough prospect, but with news surrounding the Depuy hip replacement recall causing additional concern, it’s easy to see hip replacement surgery as not just the end of a career, but as the end of so much more. It’s unfortunate that with the stories of success and victory also come these stories of painful recovery.
As the 2012 Olympics fade into memory, let’s not forget the unseen physical sacrifices of the Olympians.